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KDP

On June 7, I’ll have been self-publishing for exactly one year.

My first offering, Fatal Exchange, continues to sell well – in fact, it’s selling more now than ever.

My second book, How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) is languishing. I guess authors don’t buy books, or perhaps they don’t have a sense of humor about the business. So that’s been somewhat of a dud from a sales perspective, although a hoot from a creative and acclaim perspective. Go figure.

My third, The Geronimo Breach, is also selling well, although it varies from white hot to so-so, depending upon pricing and promotions I’m running. Still, it’s gotten rave reviews, and is one of my favorites, and I have to give it a thumb’s up from a sales standpoint. That’s one I think will still have appeal a decade from now, so I’m confident it will earn its keep.

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NEWS: An interview with author Felicia Rodgers and yours truly on The Voynich Cypher.

UPDATE: New guest blog at Manic Readers on writing The Voynich Cypher. A good one.

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I’m not going to list all my books. Don’t worry. You didn’t come here for that. You came here because of the free stuff I routinely give away, and the nude photos, I know. What? There aren’t? Oh. Never mind then.

Self-publishing has turned into a truly awesome experience for me – far better than I’d ever hoped. I’m selling at a clip that I’d hoped to hit within three years of entering the market, not ten months. So that’s great. But it has also given me a chance to live my dream. No, not being a pole dancing male burlesque stud grinding for the drunk tourist women at Jalapenos – I just do that for the cash and the workout. And no, also not naked ice dancing, although that’s certainly my first love. What I’m speaking of is being an actual author who makes his living writing books.

I had sort of given up that dream after my only encounter with the whole NY traditional publishing game in another life. It just seemed like I was going to have to surrender all my control, and dance like a trained chimp to the beat of countless editors, agents, marketing consultants, etc. while making peanuts, if that. I don’t have the patience for doing things on other people’s timelines, which is why I’ve never been a good big company player.

When I first heard of success stories in self-publishing I was skeptical. Konrath, Locke, Hocking, Eisler… I don’t know. It sounded too good to be true. But after I bought my first kindle I got it. I understood why that simple device had changed publishing forever, as had Amazon. I saw the future; one where tens of millions of devices were voraciously devouring high quality content, and I realized that if I could create even an interstitial awareness of my writing, there might be a there there. So I went the OCD route, and committed to write as close to a million words by the end of 2011 as I could manage. I got pretty close. 12 releases. None I have to be ashamed of.

2012 I’ve slowed the pace, and have targeted releasing 6 to 8 novels, depending upon my mood and the muse’s availability. I’ve got two in the can, and have started the third, so hitting my goal isn’t going to be a problem, I don’t think.

2012’s first release, The Voynich Cypher, has been big so far, and I hope it continues to attract reader attention. The next one, Revenge of the Assassin, a sequel to King of Swords, will release end of April, and then another sequel to King will release end of May.

Because of self-publishing, I’m getting to make my living, in retirement, as an author, and doing so on my terms, at my pace, with my vision of what the work should be like, what the covers should portray, and what price the books should sell for. As a creative person, I can’t tell you how good that feels. Happiness is fleeting, and getting to do something I love and get fairly compensated for it, as well as connect with readers, defies description. It’s a rush. It makes everything seem worth doing. I recommend it highly.

For that opportunity, I’m grateful. And while I at times have a love/hate relationship with Amazon, without their visionary approach to self-publishing, I’d be relegated to laying around on the beach considering my navel. So for that, I owe them one.

As I owe those who have purchased my work, and then told a friend. Without readers, a writer isn’t very fulfilled. It’s readers that make the experience complete.

So for everyone out there who might be debating self-publishing, all I can say is that to date it’s the most rewarding decision of my life at a host of levels. I hope that continues, and would encourage you to take the plunge and give it a shot. The water’s warm, and the view is just fine. Although the hours can be brutal, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll walk away from it with much more than the glow of the experience. Much like life, that.

 

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I’ve been in KDP Select for a little over a month. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a program where you sign up as an author, and Amazon pays you a fee for each book their KDP subscribers borrow every month. Fee for borrowing? Sounds great so far. But the big incentive for authors is that Amazon also allows you to list each title you enroll, as free for 5 days per 90, either consecutively, or a few days here and there. In exchange for this, you agree to make your title exclusive to Amazon for the term of the deal – which probably doesn’t matter to Amazon nearly as much as it hurts their competitors. Does that matter? Not to me. At least, not right now. Amazon gives their competition the eye dig, and we win. Right?

The free thing is a double edged sword, as far as I’m concerned. On the one hand, it gives readers a chance to sample books by authors they’re unsure of or unfamiliar with, including me. That’s good for both readers and authors, at least in theory. I say in theory, because there’s also a negative. Three actually, for authors. For readers, it’s almost all good.

The first negative is the commission. In Dec. it was $1.70 per title. That was awesome for those with .99 cent books, but not so much for those with $2.99 and higher books. That meant that if your book was listed for $2.99 you would have seen $2 for a sale, you saw $1.70 for a loan, for a net loss of 30 cents (assuming you were at 70% commission). The deal got worse if you had $3.99 or $4.99 titles, as you were seeing $1.70 instead of $2.50 or $3. Still, the boost to sales that you got from being able to put your book free was worth it.

It also raised the issue of whether a loan was accretive, or if it cannibalized a book sale. Some argued that it was accretive, others said it cannibalized. My experience, having listed several titles in the middle of the month that were steady sellers, was that it cannibalized. I saw the sales numbers drop by 15%, to be replaced by loaned books. That’s just me. I’m not complaining. Just letting everyone know what I noticed. I believe that if you only had one book you could get as a loan per month, you got something you were planning on buying. My experience to date bore that out.

The second negative is that in January, the loan payment dropped to $1.60. That further skews the value proposition for the higher priced books. If one views the delta between the loan rate and a sale as marketing dollars, it makes the price of the free 5 days considerably higher for a $4.99 book than a $2.99 book. It’s still an awesome deal for .99 books, BTW. Get paid more than the book is listed for. Who wouldn’t sign up for that? But it comes at a high cost to more expensive titles. And it raises a legitimate question – is dropping the monthly rate a trend? If so, it’s one many authors will find troubling. Some won’t. But if you enrolled in Dec, it means that your average reimbursement on a loan is in reality south of the $1.70 you thought you’d get. This is too new to rate, but still worth watching.

The associated negative for readers is that the reimbursement favors .99 books, as well as cheaper books, which many believe means lower quality efforts. That means that the perceived benefit would be lower to customers who pay the $80 KDP fee for the year’s privilege of shipping discounts and free books at a rate of one per month, over time. “Big deal. It’s filled with cheapo books.” And so on. Again, not my problem. Just an issue for Amazon more than anything else. I can’t for the life of me see why they didn’t just offer a percentage of the asking price rather than a fixed rate – unless they were planning to lower it. Which is exactly what they did after one month.

The third negative is that the market is saturated with free books. That’s both good and bad for everyone. For authors, it’s bad because it creates a culture where books are something you don’t pay for, but good because it creates a vehicle for folks to sample your wares. It is also bad because there will be a segment of the market that just waits to buy, because they figure they can get your title for free if they just hang out for a while. From a reader standpoint, it creates an overwhelming number of choices that can be off-putting. Now you are playing literary agent, going through the Amazon slush pile. Read the first five pages, toss it. Second five pages, toss that one too. And so on.

So what do you think? As authors, given that a lot of my followers who aren’t clowns pretending to be Latvian prostitutes are authors? Think it is cannibalism? And do you think it is net positive, or negative? And readers. What’s your take?

I’ll be genuinely interested to hear.

For the record, I believe Amazon is doing a hell of a job creating a market for guys like me to make a living self-publishing books, whereas before I was just uninterested in waiting 18 months to see a title come out, and get beer money for the pleasure. They have created a boom for me. For that I am grateful.

But what do you think? Chime in.

 

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12 Feb 2012, by

Future Shock

I had an interesting short discussion tonight, the topic of which was where the hell the world is going. Specifically, where the world of books/publishing is going.

A major concern for many authors is the free & .99 book phenomenon. One person advanced the idea that the whole pricing model will wind up being free (or almost free) for all content, essentially shutting out most authors who hope to make a livable income writing. Ultimately, if you can’t get paid to write, many will bow out, leaving only those who write for passion publishing their work. And of course, not paying for things like editing and covers, because there’s no way to recoup the investment.

Perhaps.

Another wag chimed in that the future is likely to be ads on kindle, or some other mechanism whereby authors can get paid for creating decent work. I suspect that will be closer to the truth. Or at least, I hope it will. Looking at the glut of demo tapes parading as “free” content from every musician with a sampler and shareware editing software, and seeing how robust the music business continues to be a decade after all was supposed to be lost because of CD purchases going the way of the Constitution, I tend to think we’ll adapt. Amazon isn’t going to want to be in the book biz long term to give it away for free. Even if that has been the short term effect on the indie publishing business of their KDP program.

I think we’re all seeing, as authors, the impact of KDP making free an option for everyone with an ebook. Which has created a glut. Ditto for the marketing guidance that one should price one’s wares at .99 – it’s interesting that even the pundits espousing the wisdom of .99 are now struggling to make decent sales at the $2.99 point, having lived in a .99 purgatory for long enough, it would seem.

I’ve played with pricing. I think there’s a place on a book introduction for a short time to price at .99. How long is more art than science – and even then, I believe only until you’ve established a reputation as being worth more. I was at #165 in total paid kindle sales with The Geronimo Breach for a few giddy days in January at .99 as a cheapskate promotion. When I raised the price, sales dropped off. Now, I realize there are many factors that could have affected sales besides pricing. Other offerings hitting. Saturation of those interested in giving me a whirl that week. A belief I suck harder than a Hoover. Whatever. Next time around, maybe I’ll keep my .99 book on an intro or a special for a few weeks, rather than a few days. We live and learn. I don’t think it’s going to much affect my overall trajectory. King of Swords, I went out with at $4.99. Sales are decent and trending higher. My $3.99 roster are selling well, if not briskly.

I’ll try .99 again in a while, maybe on Geronimo, or with another book. Maybe The Voynich Cypher when I release around first week of March, although I’m inclined to price it at $4.99 right out of the gate. I’ll be asking a lot of opinions before I do. But I will state that I’m disinclined to offer all my books on a rotating basis for free, or .99.

The market, ultimately, will decide what my books, and yours, are worth. It’s a weighing machine, that pesky market is. A product is worth whatever the market will pay for it. No more, no less. You can create liquidity (sales) by lowering the price, but if you want to maintain brand integrity, price wars are a lousy way to go. It’s best to just know what the product is really worth, and not try to get more, or less, for any length of time, as that will establish what the market perceives your brand as being worth. It’s either cheap crap, or overpriced. You won’t be able to please everyone. But if you have a good sense what other similar books are selling for in the same genre at the same level of writing and production/editing/cover, you should know what yours is worth.

My caution is if you are selling it for .99 when the “real” authors are at $4 or $5 or higher, you need to rethink what you’re doing, because you might be digging a hole you can never get out of, and tarnishing our work out of the gate.

One thing I do believe is that there’s value for mainstream readers in having a filtering mechanism to sort through all the dross and find quality books. It’s no secret that many free or cheap books are lousy, or marginal. People are generally surprised when they aren’t. I believe there will ultimately be a value proposition someone will pay for to find the decent, so they don’t have to sort through 100 duds to find a winner. What that mechanism is, I’m not sure. It’s not going to be Big 6 traditional publishing houses trying to get $12.99 for something that is presumably reasonably edited, and may also suck. There’s value in the filter, but for many, not THAT much value. Somewhere, my hunch says in the $5 range, there may be a middle ground. I don’t pretend to know. Or maybe the business will go to the ad driven model, where advertisers pay to be in your book based on the demand. Whatever it is, there will be a mechanism whereby authors of merit get paid. It’s just the intermediaries that will make a lot less. At least, that would be my hope.

Having said that, I do think that free is here to stay, until Amazon pulls the plug on it. At some point they’ll look at their overall book sales declining versus whatever they hoped to make off KDP, and some bright lad will figure out that it’s not a good direction. Or maybe not. I have two titles for free at the moment, purely as promotional loss leaders, and ironically, neither in KDP – the philosophy behind my free titles being that if you try my work, a substantial portion of you will not mind parting with the cost of a cup of coffee for more of it. So far that’s working, but I’m not sure how I’d feel if I only had one or two titles. I’d probably be railing against the free thing. Maybe not.

I waffle on all this quite a bit. For a while, I believed that all content would eventually get to the .99 point, as in the music model created by Apple. But that ignores that a song is 3 minutes of entertainment, whereas a novel is many hours. So maybe not. Maybe most readers won’t find it burdensome to pay $3-$5 or whatever for an author whose work they like and trust. I’m quite sure there will always exist a segment that won’t pay for anything, and believes that everything should be free – except of course, whatever it is they do for a living. They howl like spanked dogs if you propose they work for free – it’s just everyone else that should. That segment will always exist, as it has with music – but I note that Eminem isn’t quitting and getting a day gig as a result of all the free demos masquerading as finished product.

So what do you think? What’s going to happen? Are we going to be living in a world of free content, where the real talents fold up their tents and sell real estate instead of books? Or will there be an alternative mechanism to monetize the work, just as there is now an alternative delivery system to dead trees for pages? I tend to think the latter. Or maybe that’s just hope.

What do you think? What will the future look like?

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Update Two: At the end of day three of my Twitter moratorium, sales are basically unchanged, as is the trend. Blog traffic, however, has dropped by 40%, signalling that Twitter is an effective way to market it. Also, I’ve gotten a number of e-mails and messages from folks who chimed in to point out that they’d have never heard of me if not for Twitter, thus it works, or did on them. Therefore, I think it’s valid to resume tweeting, but at a reduced rate. How’s that for waffling? Didn’t affect sales, did affect blog traffic, unknown on how much it affected would-be buyers – that’s the sales growth part of the curve. How many more people would have bought? I mean, I can assume none, but that assumes a static market, which it ain’t. So my approach will be akin to some people’s approach to prayer: can’t hurt. There are no atheists on Amazon.

Update: Two days into my Twitter holiday, my sales are basically flat with where they were with dozens of promotional tweets per day a week before. I’ll give it one more day, and if still flat, will be scaling back my Twitter presence to some product specific promotional tweets, a few review reprises, and mostly just me shooting the breeze with whatever comes to mind whenever I have a break. Nude ice dancing and clown warfare included. Interesting, as I would have expected a huge drop off. But reality is that¬† Sunday, the last day of 50+ tweets per day effort, was down from Sunday a week before by 10%. Monday was off by 13%, and Tuesday was up by 4%. Which tells me what everyone else has been saying is likely correct – social media saturation is ultimately meaningless, and perhaps accounts for 10% of sales, once you’re established. After three days of it (assuming similar results manana) I think it’s safe to say that I don’t need to live on Twitter. There’s no point. That should be freeing for those of us who have been doing so. That’s all for now.

 

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